On June 4, 1945, Bourgeois opened her first solo exhibition at Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York. Two years later, she mounted another solo show at Norlyst Gallery in New York. She joined the American Abstract Artists Group in 1954. Her friends were Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, whose personalities interested her more than the Surrealist émigrés she met during her early years in New York. Through these tempestuous years among her male peers, Bourgeois experienced the typical ambivalence of the career-minded wife and mother, fighting off anxiety-attacks while preparing for her shows. To restore equilibrium, she often hid her work but never destroyed it.
In 1955, Bourgeois became an American citizen. In 1958, she and Robert Goldwater moved to the Chelsea section of Manhattan, where they remained to the end of their respective lives. Goldwater died in 1973, while consulting on the Metropolitan Museum of Arts new galleries for African and Oceanic art (today's Michael C. Rockefeller Wing). His specialty was primitivism and modern art as a scholar, teacher at NYU, and the first director of the Museum of Primitive Art (1957 to 1971).
In 1973, Bourgeois began to teach at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Cooper Union in Manhattan, Brooklyn College and the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. She was already in her 60s. At this point, her work fell in with the Feminist movement and exhibition opportunities increased significantly. In 1981, Bourgeois mounted her first retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Almost 20 years later, in 2000, she exhibited her enormous spider, Maman (1999), 30 feet high, in the Tate Modern in London. In 2008, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Centre Pompidou in Paris exhibited another retrospective.
Today, exhibitions of Louise Bourgeois' work may occur simultaneously as her work is always in great demand. The Dia Museum in Beacon, New York, features a long-term installation of her phallic sculptures and a spider.
Louise Bourgeois' body of work draws its inspiration from her memory of childhood sensations and traumas. Her father was domineering and a philanderer. Most painful of all, she discovered his affair with her English nanny. Destruction of the Father, 1974, plays out her revenge with a pink plaster and latex ensemble of phallic or mammalian protrusions gathered around a table where the symbolic corpse lies, splayed out for all to devour.
Similarly, her Cells are architectural scenes with made and found objects tinged with domesticity, child-like wonder, nostalgic sentimentality and implicit violence.
Some sculptures objects seem strangely grotesque, like creatures from another planet. Some installations seem uncannily familiar, as if the artist recalled your forgotten dream.
Of her work Maman, Bourgeois explained: "This spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother."
Bourgeois received numerous awards, including a Life Time Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award in Washington D.C. in 1991, the National Medal of Arts in 1997, the French Legion of Honor in 2008 and induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York in 2009.